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Israel Folau's Freedom of Conscience and Expression

​Response to Otago Daily Times Editorial (June 27, 2019)

The Otago Daily Times editorial on Israel Folau is puzzling in a nation and city that prides itself on democracy, liberalism, and tolerance. Foundational principles of the Western civil experiment of which Australia and New Zealand are a part include individual freedom of conscience, freedom of deeply-held religious belief, freedom to convince others of one’s point of view, freedom of speech as long as one doesn’t incite violence, and the freedom of an employee to express him or herself outside the workplace on issues important to him or her. We need to apply these principles fairly in every case, including in the case of Mr. Folau.

Mr. Folau has a conscience, as we all do, and his conscience tells him “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators” are in danger of “hell.” Essentially, he paraphrased what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians. In the same social media post, he goes on to quote other Bible verses about sinful behavior and the opportunity sinful people have to repent and turn to God before it’s too late.

Historically, there is nothing at all unusual, bizarre, or violence-inciting about his post. He expresses worldview beliefs deeply held by hundreds of millions of people around the world, including in Australia and New Zealand. The goal of Folau’s post was to convince readers they should examine their lives in light of what he believes the Bible teaches. He wrote in his private capacity and nowhere implies his views represent Rugby Australia. All Rugby Australia had to say in response was that Folau’s views were his own private ones and that they do not reflect the views of Rugby Australia. The issue could have been settled very easily.

However, money talks. The editor seems to justify the sacking of Folau because Rugby Australia would otherwise lose lots of fans and therefore lots of money. This is big business, and because it’s big business, and because of Folau’s success, he must ensure his private social media posts on social issues agree with the corporate party line. Wow. Talk about corporate power over individual speech. Do we realize how chilling this policy is to freedom and open public discourse?

We all must respect the fact there are many who don’t agree with our position on things. We need to allow our “culture war opponents” the same freedom to express their positions as they allow to us. We must always apply the “if the shoe was on the other foot” test. There are conservatives and progressives today, and there will always be conservatives and progressives. May we not try to silence each other but instead engage in fair, just, open, and respectful discourse.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly not allowed. Tolerance has become intolerant. The editor should be defending Folau’s freedom of speech, not justifying the silencing of a widely held viewpoint with which he personally disagrees.



 

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